gettin’ your freekeh on

If I ran analysis and crunched numbers, I could tell you exactly how many food for fun recipes are “healthy” and how many not so much. But since running analysis and crunching numbers sounds a bit dry, I’ll just say that the “better for the soul than your waistline” recipes found here far outnumber the “good for you” recipes.

Yet. If this blog more accurately reflected how I cook, it would offer a better balance. While I love my sweets (and my cocktails), the meals I make tend to showcase whole grains, veggies, lean proteins, etc. That said, the sweet stuff garners more attention (and generally seems more fun), so I don’t often include main dishes here. But today I will.

Epicurious.com‘s recipes grace my email box daily and today’s caught my attention. I’d just been thinking supper possibilities as I opened the email and Stir-Fried Buckwheat sounded good. With a bag of buckwheat groats already in my freezer (or so I thought), this recipe would make a healthy vegetarian entrée.

What intrigued me most was how the grains were cooked. First, they were mixed with an egg, then toasted for a brief time in a large saucepan. Vegetable broth was added and the grain simmered 15 or so minutes until the broth was absorbed. The cooked grain was then spread out on a baking sheet, each kernel separated as much as possible for cooling. When added to the stir-fried and seasoned veggies, the grains mostly remain separate.

cooling the kernels

cooling the kernels

A quick search of the freezer failed to uncover buckwheat groats, but I found freekah and gave that a go instead. (Do you know freekeh? I first discovered it a year or so ago and figured it as the next quinoa. Billed as cracked green wheat, it’s chewy, slightly sweet, and adds variety to a whole grain repertoire. As for being the next big thing in the grain world, it’s now sold at Costco–a sure sign of being mainstreamed.)

freekah: a young, green cracked wheat

freekah: a young, green cracked wheat

Another change was subbing curry paste for the chile paste as that’s what I had on hand (paste is paste, right?). As well, I didn’t have any green beans, so added color with a handful of chopped fresh mint.

Stir-Fried Freekah

Stir-Fried Freekeh

Nutritionally, it makes a better side than main as it’s all carbs, but a sprinkle of peanuts upped the protein content. Though my girls weren’t impressed, I was. Reminiscent of fried rice, it also had its own personality: warm and slightly salty and savory and herby. I’ll definitely be making it again.

up close and personal

up close and personal

So while food for fun will continue highlighting ice cream, cookies, cakes, bread, adult beverages, and the like, it’ll also serve up the occasional healthy dish. The way I see it, not-so-good-for-you food can be enjoyed (relatively) guilt-free when you’ve filled up on the good stuff first.

amazing muffins and crazy ice cream part I

The raisins-in-baked goods question seems to divide folks and I’ve always found myself on the side of the not so muches. A handful as-is makes me very happy, but keep them out of my cookies, quick breads, scones, etc. thank you very much. (Don’t even get me started on sour cream raisin pie.)

But I baked with a friend recently and when she suggested we make Super Muffins, I couldn’t say no. (Super Muffins? How often do you get the chance to make Super Muffins?) I overlooked the fact that there were raisins involved as well as that the recipe looked much like that for the ever-popular Morning Glory muffins. (Never a fan–too chock-full-of-goodness for me.)

But I was baking with a friend and willing to try something new. And things didn’t look all bad–outside of raisins, the other ingredients were winners: oats, bran, whole wheat flour, shredded carrots, applesauce, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger. I was willing to look past the raisin thing and give these a try.

And it’s a good thing I did or I would not have been able to tell you that these were the Best Muffins Ever: full of flavor, dense but not in a doorstop way, just sweet enough. The raisins? They melted into the muffin’s structure, only making themselves known so far as their hit of tangy sweet.

yum?

yum?

out of the oven

out of the oven

Super Muffins cooling

Super Muffins cooling

These muffins are prize winners on so many levels. My baking friend and I enjoyed one for lunch, though they’re also no-brainers for breakfasts and snacks. And I imagined they’d also make a fine dessert warmed, then drizzled with caramel sauce and served alongside vanilla ice cream.

definitely yum

definitely yum

Thinking ahead, we talked about mixing pumpkin or sunflower seeds into the batter. Or chia seeds. Or flax seeds. Or subbing pumpkin puree in for part (or all) of the applesauce. Adding freshly grated nutmeg and upping the ground ginger seemed smart. But I wouldn’t touch the carrot amount–it was perfect. And despite what I thought going in, I’d keep the raisins. (Though perhaps they could be plumped in bourbon rather than boiling water?  😉 )

The muffin recipe follows, but note that I took my suggestion of serving these muffins drizzled with caramel sauce and alongside ice cream very seriously. (or as seriously as you can take something as fun as Super Muffins, caramel sauce, and ice cream 🙂 ) There’s more to say about that ice cream, but seeing as how this is getting long, I’ll leave you with a picture and ask you to come back later in the week for the second half of this divine dessert pairing. (There will also be beer chocolate sauce, so well worth the wait.)

super muffins, DIY ice cream, and salted caramel sauce--it doesn't get any better than this

super muffins, DIY ice cream, and sea salt caramel sauce–it doesn’t get any better than this

Now for those muffins…

Super Muffins

Credit for these absolutely above-average muffins goes to my friend Stephanie’s grandma–thanks for sharing!

1 to 2 cups raisins
3 cups all-bran cereal
1  (23-ounce) jar unsweetened applesauce
2 1/2 cups milk
3 large carrots, grated (about 2 cups) or more if desired
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons canola oil (we used coconut oil)
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon salt

2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease muffins cups.

In small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add raisins; let stand 5 minutes. (DO NOT DRAIN.)

In large bowl, combine cereal, applesauce, milk, carrots, brown sugar, eggs, and oil; mix well. Stir in raisin mixture. In separate large bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients except for walnuts. Gently stir wet ingredients into dry; mix just until combined. Stir in walnuts if using.

Ladle batter evenly into muffin cups, filling each completely. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Refrigerate to store. Can also be frozen, which is good as this recipe Makes 40 Muffins!

carb cravings: the cookies and bread edition

The better part of my weekend was spent developing no-carb recipes for a client who is assembling a cookbook. This was a tough project for me as guidelines called for essentially zero carbs other than vegetables. The allowed foods list contained a fair amount of meats, dairy, nuts, seeds, and oils along with limitless non-starchy veg. Fruits? Lemons, limes, berries, and apples, and then only “in moderation.” Even dried beans were given the cold shoulder and limited to occasional consumption. Whole grains? Not even on the Allowed list. (Quinoa and a few others were occasionally acceptable, but anything wheat-related was a no-no.)

While I was up for the challenge, it hurt to shun grains, legumes, and fruits as they add variety to a daily diet and have so much to offer nutritionally. But working for a client, I pushed personal feelings aside and stepped up to the no-carb plate. While I made some progress (Venison-stuffed bell peppers? Salmon salad? Winners both.), there were a few recipes I just couldn’t like. (Talking to you, spinach bread and kale smoothie.) More tweaking lies ahead, but by the end of the weekend my kitchen needed some carb karma.

Oatmeal cookies seemed a good choice, so I put together a batch using a recipe clipped from the newspaper years back. Chocolate chips were replaced by a handful of leftover red and pink m&m’s, another small amount of red “chocolate” chips (must have hit the day-after-Valentine’s rack at the grocery store), and a much larger amount of pretzel m&ms. The cookies were fantastic and loved by all; just by baking them I started feeling better about my no-carb recipes.

oatmeal m&m cookies

oatmeal m&m cookies

My husband, a willing if wary no-carb taste-tester, must also have been scarred by my project as he announced today that he was going to bake bread. While not completely out of character for him, it’s been ages since he’s made bread and his declaration cracked me up. He, too, must have sensed the kitchen’s need for carbohydrates. His chosen recipe was a no-knead oatmeal loaf and when time came to put the dough into pans, he happened upon my new loaf pan. Sold as a three-slot lasagna pan, this “kitchen toy” was recommended by a friend who uses it to bake multiple types of quick bread at once. Hubby’s bread dough filled two of the three slots, giving us two spectacularly amazing soft, fragrant, and golden loaves of carbohydrate bliss.

dough starting to rise

dough starting to rise

just-baked bread is very near the top of my Favorite Things in Life list

doesn’t get much better than just-baked bread

golden homemade oatmeal bread

golden homemade oatmeal bread

I get that consuming excess carbs can pack on the pounds. I get that protein and fat satiate in ways that carbs cannot. But I also believe that there’s room in a healthy diet for carbs–especially the whole grains that provide fiber and lots of B vitamins. While I’m not fond of the mantra “everything in moderation” (everything? really? there goes the moderation, then), it does apply to most food situations. No-carb diets may be important for folk in critical health situations and may also help jump-start weight loss. But I’m all for including some of (almost) everything in what I eat. Kale and spinach. Cookies and bread. I’ll gladly make room for all of it. If you feel likewise, here are two rock star carb recipes.

Oatmeal-Candy Cookies

adapted from Cookies for Kids’ Cancer: Best Bake Sale Cookbook by Gretchen Holt-Witt

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups m&ms (the pretzel variety is an especially fun cookie stir-in)

Heat oven to 325°F. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray.

In bowl, beat together butter and brown and granulated sugars with electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Add egg, yolk, and vanilla, beating until combined.

In separate bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda and powder, and salt; mix well. Add to butter mixture; beat on Low speed until blended. Stir in m&ms.

Drop tablespoons of dough at least 2 inches apart onto baking sheets. Bake 13 to 16 minutes or until cookies just begin to brown at edge. Cool briefly on baking sheets; transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 60 cookies.

No-Knead Oatmeal Bread

adapted from a recipe found in 2010 Minneapolis Star Tribune Taste

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  •  1/2 cup honey or light molasses
  •  1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 4 1/2 cups bread flour

In large bowl, combine boiling water, oats, honey, butter, and salt; cool to lukewarm. Add yeast, mix well. Blend in eggs. Add flour until well blended yet still a soft dough. Place dough in greased bowl; cover. Refrigerate until needed, at least 2 hours.

Grease 2 (9×5-inch) loaf pans. On well-floured board, shape dough into 2 loaves. Place in pans; cover. Let rise 1 hour or until double. Bake at 350°F 1 hour or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when removed from pans and tapped on the bottom. Makes 2 loaves.